Ireland's commitment to collective security is pursued through the United Nations, which has the primary role in the maintenance of international peace and security. The UN has no standing military forces of its own and relies on the voluntary provision of resources by willing members. At present, according to the Defence Acts, Defence Forces personnel can only serve overseas in an operation established by the UN Security Council or General Assembly. It does not allow for Irish contingents to participate in missions which are clearly endorsed by the Security Council but which have not been established by the UN.
The Defence (Amendment) (No. 2) Act 1960, which provides for the deployment of troops on overseas missions, was drafted at a time when it was not envisaged that the UN would engage regional organisations on its behalf, rather than directly raise forces of its own. However, there has been a significant rise in the number of peacekeeping and peace-enforcement operations carried out by regional organisations or ad hoc coalitions with the sanction or approval of the UN. This is due not only to the considerable increase in the number of peacekeeping operations but also to the specialised nature of particular operations. An example is the current French-led EU Operation Artemis in the Democratic Republic of Congo. This operation was established by UN Resolution 1484 but is initially being implemented by the EU on behalf of the UN.
The circumstances which arose in relation to the participation of the Defence Forces in the first EU peace support operation, currently under way in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, FYROM, are unlikely to recur. Deputies will recall that while UN Security Council Resolution 1371 of September 2001 noted that the UN "strongly supports" the establishment of a multinational security presence in FYROM, Irish Defence Forces personnel were not able to participate. The Attorney General advised the Government that the UN endorsement did not satisfy the requirement, as laid out in the Defence Acts, that the UN must establish or authorise the establishment of the EU-led force.
However, as I have stated in the past, in a volatile international security environment, I believe that we should keep the matter under review to ensure that we are not found wanting should circumstances arise where the Government would wish to consider Defence Forces participation in a crisis calling for a response from the international community, which conforms to Ireland's proud tradition in contributing to international peace and security.